Saturday, January 31, 2009

Swimming and Reading (But Not Simultaneously)

The girls competed in their second swim meet ever today. We got up before dawn and drove to Mandan, found the Mandan Community Center, and stationed ourselves in the bleachers near one end of the pool. Having been to only one other meet previously, we assumed this one would be similar: start early in the morning and end early in the afternoon. We had plans afterward to go shopping to use some gift cards received at Christmas and return some "wrong size" gifts, to buy some groceries for our Super Bowl party tomorrow*, and then eat supper at a restaurant that we don't have in Dickinson.

Well, sadly, the swim meet started later in the morning than the last meet and didn't end until about 5:00 P.M. That's a long time to sit in a muggy pool area, and it felt like hanging out in a sauna wearing street clothes for nine hours. But the girls had a blast. They competed in some events that they hadn't last time and some events that they had, so for those we were able to compare today's times with their previous times--and they all shaved off seconds in each event! None of the girls qualified for the state meet, but they're improving. And Hillary, who finished first in two of her heats, came pretty close to qualifying for state . . . and that was even after waiting for several seconds after the race had started to jump into the water! (She looked at the scoreboard, saw the number of the previous event still listed there, and decided she needed to wait until she saw the number of her own event . . . which they don't post until everyone has jumped into the water to start an event! Now she knows, though.)

Susan cut out in the afternoon to get some of the shopping done while I stayed behind to cheer and sweat. Afterward we had time to use my gift card at Barnes & Noble and pick up shoes at Payless before eating at Grizzly's, making a final stop at Target, getting fuel for the vehicle at Tesoro, and picking up ice cream at McDonald's on our way out of town. (Shouldn't I be getting paid for all this advertising?!) Here is what I picked up at the bookstore (thank you, Cassie and Nick, for the gift card!):
  • On a Raven's Wing: New Tales in Honor of Edgar Allan Poe -- It caught my eye from a display in a center aisle. The book's editor, Stuart Kaminsky, invited contemporary authors to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Poe's birth by writing new stories inspired by him or his work. I loved reading Poe when teaching American literature, and I like "companion" works--stories, poems, films, etc., inspired by an earlier story, poem, film, etc.--so I'm eager to start reading!
  • Robinson Crusoe -- Our family has been enjoying watching NBC's Crusoe (remember?), but none of us has ever read Daniel Defoe's book that inspired the TV series. That's about to be rectified.
  • Ballistics -- Billy Collins is one of my favorite poets, and this is his newest collection of poetry, so this was an obvious choice for me.

We looked unsuccessfully for a Scandinavian cookbook, too. Any suggestions, anybody?

*Our Super Bowl Sunday plans include snacking and, for supper, eating appetizer-y kinds of foods: stuffed potato skins, Buffalo chicken wings, vegetables in spinach dip, bruschetta, etc. We'll most likely eat all this while stationed in front of the flat-screen TV . . . watching a cooking show from Food Network or a home design show from HGTV, no doubt. We'll probably flip over to "the game" occasionally to see who's winning . . . or even who's playing.

P.S. See the poll in the sidebar to the right to register your vote.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Put Your Hand Down

Today was the last of three consecutive Sundays that Susan and I joined Abigail for pre-confirmation classes at church. When the children start confirmation classes in junior high, they will be expected to memorize all the books of the Bible, and the prep work starts during these pre-confirmation classes: "For next week, memorize the first 14 books of the Old Testament". Suzanna had to do that last year, so at the time we just went ahead and memorized all of the books . . . of both testaments. As a family. Overachievers! So no big whoop for Abigail to get that assignment this year--she already completed that homework last year and easily rattled off the books again when told a couple weeks ago to "start working on" her memorization.

Besides the books of the Bible, the topic for the fourth-graders has been baptism: what it means as a sacrament in the Lutheran church as well as what it means for each child and his/her family in particular. We've been pulling out and examining and discussing artifacts: Abigail's baptismal certificate, the church bulletin from the day she was baptized (December 26, 1999), the gown and blanket from her baptism, the candle lit and handed to us during her baptism, a scrapbook with photos from that day, etc. It has been fun to recall and talk about, and Abigail delights in hearing about her own baptism and how we celebrated the occasion.

She also likes the classes: having Mom and Dad there to interact with and to help her on her projects (like decorating a baptismal remembrance box in which to store artifacts from her baptism--although it's too small to hold anything other than the candle), doing the activities, reading from the Bible and answering questions in the booklet that has been guiding us each week, and participating in large-group discussions. The pastor directs our attention to part of the booklet and sets us to a task, like reading a Bible verse and discussing it as a family. Then she gets our attention as a group and asks us all questions, calling on students who raise their hands to offer answers.

Abigail's hand shoots up after every single question. She knows her Bible stories; she has insight into the particular verses for the day; she has thoughts rushing around inside her head and is willing and eager to share them. She likes the whole teacher-asks-and-students-answer format of running a classroom, and she doesn't mind others' knowing that she knows the answers. She doesn't mind when others get called on to answer, either; but if no one else has a response to offer, Abigail always does.

Well, my heart broke just a tiny little bit this morning. The pastor, trying to balance whom she called upon to give answers to her questions, had Abigail answer a couple but then, upon seeing Abigail's hand up for a subsequent question, said something to this effect: "I know you know, Abigail, but I'm going to give others a chance to answer, too." And Abigail, smile on her face, put her hand down and pretty much had to sit on it the rest of the morning. The pastor would ask a question, and nobody else would raise their hands, and Abigail would know the answer, and she would look at me and bite her lip and then shove her hand under her leg to keep it from going up in the air because she knew that others needed a chance to participate, too.

And that's perfectly true, and in fact many other children were able to answer the pastor's questions throughout the class, and the group's progress was all the better for the participation from so many children. But I could see in Abigail's eyes a little bit of shame for having previously been unabashed in raising her hand, and I knew that she had learned more than one lesson: not only that it's good to give others an opportunity to participate but also that it's not good to be proud to know the answer to every question that the teacher asks. At one point, when everybody was being silent after the pastor had asked a question, Abigail whispered to me, "I know the answer, but I know that I should give others a chance, so I won't say anything." A little bit of the innocent, energetic twinkle dimmed from her eyes, and it was a visible struggle for her to stop volunteering herself whenever the pastor asked for someone to answer a question or offer an idea.

Grand scheme of things: Abigail's just fine, and she realizes that it's okay for her to know things without always having to make that knowledge public--that a teacher needs to hear from Abigail's classmates, too, to know how much they do or don't know in order to determine how best to proceed with the class. But it was about as much fun to watch Abigail's learning that lesson as it was to watch her fall off her bicycle while learning to ride. Maybe more painful because a bruised butt and scraped leg usually heal eventually without leaving behind any marks, but blows to the spirit can leave scars that last a surprisingly long time.

P.S. See the poll in the sidebar to the right to register your vote.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Inaugural Arts

Has this happened with every presidential inauguration but just not registered in my long-term memory? I was surprised at the number of concerts and celebratory gatherings nation-wide in the days leading up to President Obama's inauguration. All the anticipatory musical performances, TV and Internet broadcasts, small-town events, and online activities made the upcoming inauguration seem more like a cultural than a political event. (But I suppose it can be both; doesn't a country's culture include its civic pride and participation in the process of self-government?)

Fast-forward to yesterday: the inauguration itself featured notable artistic elements that I enjoyed and that made me glad to see the arts' still enjoying a prominent role in formal public ceremony. Poet Elizabeth Alexander read her poem "Praise Song for the Day." Unfortunately, her recitation was in the herky-jerky style that has become popular among some poets in recent years: pausing randomly while reading to break the poem into illogical two- or three-word chunks and lifting the voice before each pause just as one does with a question (e.g., "roses ARE? [pause, look around meaningfully] red VIOLETS? [repeat pause-and-look] are blue YOU? [ditto] look like A? [more pausing] monkey and YOU? [etc.] smell LIKE? [etc.] one TOO?").

To spare you that experience, Faithful Reader, I recommend you skip the online videos of that poetry reading and instead read the poem yourself. It's pretty good, and when you read it yourself, you can observe the capital letters and terminal puncutation marks throughout (don't pause at the end of a line unless you see a punctuation mark there) actually to understand what you're reading without the pretentious and nonsensical pausing that unnecessarily makes a poem difficult to comprehend.

No instructions are needed, however, for how to listen to the musical performance by Itzhak Perlman, Gabriela Montero, Anthony McGill, and Yo-Yo Ma of "Air and Simple Gifts" by John Williams. And to make it super-easy for you to enjoy the song, here it is:

P.S. And check out the White House's new online look.

P.P.S. See the poll in the sidebar to the right to register your vote.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Stop Getting Smarter and Get Yourselves to School!

In the morning, some parents have to cajole and prod their children to get out of bed and get ready for school, or to turn off the TV and get ready for school, or to shut off the video game and get ready for school. In our house? "Put down that book and get ready for school!"

P.S. See the poll in the sidebar to the right to register your vote.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

I'm So Tire-d

Well, my sister has nothing on me. She may have just gotten a new vehicle, but can she brag that she just put new tires on a 15-year-old vehicle? I thought not. But I can!

This morning I went to the garage, started the Explorer, opened the garage door, and stepped out onto the driveway to start shoveling while waiting for the girls to come out and hop into the vehicle for me to take them to school. From the end of the driveway, I glanced into the garage and was struck by how much our garage floor suddenly seemed to be slanting toward the south wall. I had never noticed that before and wondered why the Explorer looked as though it were tilting to the south. Upon closer inspection, it was quite clear: the rear passenger-side tire was com-plete-ly flat.

I have needed new tires for that vehicle for years, and ever since we moved here, I've been bemoaning that fact but doing nothing about it. Well, today seemed like a good day to act. The girls and I loaded into the van with Susan, who dropped us off at school and work respectively. This afternoon I walked home from work, fired up the air compressor, aired up the errant tire, and drove to the shop to have the tires replaced (and the oil changed). The word "express" is in the title of the shop that I patronized, but apparently that business has a sense of humor and uses "express" in its name ironically--I waited 2.5 hours to have the vehicle returned to me. Granted, it's a first-come-first-serve kind of a place, and I don't know how many vehicles were in front of me, but my patience was tested, to put it mildly.

But the reduced slippage now on even sheet-ice-covered streets is definitely noticeable, so although the sizable expense wasn't glamorous, it was worth it. So take that, sister! (P.S. I'm jealous of your spiffy new roadster, but I'd never let you know that.)

P.S. See the poll in the sidebar to the right to register your vote.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Susan's (mumble-mumble)th Birthday

Yesterday this porcelain-skinned goddess (made all the more porcelain above by the nearness of the camera and the intensity of the flash) had a birthday! A couple weeks ago, the girls and I made a shopping run to browse for potential birthday gifts. About a week later, Susan offered to share a few gift ideas, which I wrote down. This past Sunday afternoon, I took the girls out to make the final purchases. We looked for things on Susan's list of requests and on our own list of ideas, and we found a few things that weren't on either list. It's a lot more fun to shop when there are little helpers along to contribute ideas, offer feedback, and schlepp around the merchandise.

Susan knew perfectly well what we were out and about doing Sunday, but she played along as the girls whispered and sneaked presents into the house and behaved secretly in general. She even answered my questions as I set about baking her a birthday cake. Perhaps you don't understand: although I cooked and baked regularly before getting married, my time in the kitchen has dropped dramatically since marrying a woman with excellent culinary skills. Besides manning the grill in the summers and feeding the children on the rare occasion when Susan must be out of town, I don't so much cook or bake anymore. Usually for her birthday, Susan gets from us an ice cream cake because I don't think cakes made in grocery store bakeries are that terrific and because I can have a tasty ice cream cake made and decorated in no time at either of a couple local frozen dairy treat establishments.

This year, though, I baked her a chocolate cake, frosted it with Hershey's chocolate frosting, and topped it with Hershey's Bliss candies. ("Susan, is this a 9" x 13" baking pan?" "Susan, how do I set the temperature on our new oven?" "Susan, where do we keep the hand mixer?")

On Monday, Susan's birthday, we awoke to a beautiful morning: still, crisp but not too chilly, fresh air--a lovely day. Susan and I got ready for work, but before the girls could get into their school clothes, Suzanna heard on the radio the announcement that school had been canceled! Hahza-kahza-WAH?! We looked outside, we looked back at Suzanna, we poked our heads outside, we looked back at Suzanna, we asked if she were certain, and then we verified it for ourselves on the radio. It's a mystery why in the world administrators canceled school yesterday when the weather was so nice--especially when they have not canceled school on days when the weather has actually been treacherous (like last week).

Anyhoo, Susan got a day off from work as a birthday treat. (Don't get too excited; the school district will make it up by holding school later in the semester on a day previously scheduled to be a day off.) We had a tasty breakfast during which she opened all her gifts, and she seemed pleased with them all. Here are pics of her opening a couple gifts to demonstrate her joy:

I spent the day at work but came home a bit early to take some medicine and have a brief nap to ward off an oncoming migraine. I was better in time for us all to go out for supper at Applebee's, where we had a tasty meal followed by a birthday sundae for Susan and a serenading by the wait staff, singing/chanting/clapping their own version of "Happy Birthday." We were way too full afterward for birthday cake, but we did cut into that tonight. (Note to the unaware: Schwan's vanilla ice cream makes a delightful accompaniment to chocolate cake, you know.)

Susan's a little older, a little wiser, but none the worse for wear, I'd say. It was fun to plan and shop with the girls and to see Susan's reactions to her gifts--and especially to show our gratitude for having her in our lives. One more year down, decades more to go!

P.S. See the poll in the sidebar to the right to register your vote.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Mouth Like a Sailor


Background Item #1: Emeril Lagasse is a chef who is famous for shouting "Bam!" while tossing a spicy ingredient into a dish on his cooking show. Having seen his show, our daughters know this. In fact, today in church as one of the pastors poured the last of the wine from a cruet into a chalice, Suzanna leaned over and whispered to me a punctuative "Bam!" We stifled giggles and proceeded with communion.

Background Item #2: When I was growing up, my parents often sang at home with my sisters and me--perhaps while walking across the yard to do a chore or while tucking us in before bed or as we cleared the table after supper or at any time for any reason. Sometimes we used words, sometimes we hummed, sometimes we beat out the rhythm of a song with our fingers on the kitchen counter, and sometimes we sang nonsense syllables to the melody of a song (e.g., if you know the tune to "Shave and a haircut, two bits," you can imagine our using that melody but singing "Bum chicka dum dum, bonk bonk"). Susan and I do that with our kids, too, who have even gotten into the habit of adding a nonsense syllable to indicate the end of a song--as a band might have its bass drum provide the final beat or its tuba give the concluding blat (e.g., "hi ho the derry oh, the farmer in the dell . . . bonk!").


After church today we came home and ate dinner, having conversation as a family (as we are wont to do) while sitting at the table. Joking around, I made up silly lyrics to some song that made the girls giggle; and meaning to participate in the fun, Suzanna piped up to provide the concluding "bonk" on the last beat of the song.

Because she already had "Bam!" on her mind from earlier in the morning (see Background Item #1 above), Suzanna opened her mouth to say that word when the last beat rolled around. Instead, what she shouted was "Damn!"

It was right on the beat, mind you; she couldn't be faulted there. But silence hung in the air as it sunk in to all of us--Suzanna included--just exactly what word she had said.

And then we all broke out in peals of laughter. She apologized and turned red and explained what she had meant to say and could barely breathe for all the giggling, and the rest of us guffawed right along with her and had tears running down our cheeks. There were several minutes of very healthy deep laughter as we enjoyed the humor of the situation. I may or may not have egged on further laughter with my subsequent comments about her salty language, the nature of her character, the kind of parents who would raise such a child, etc.

There may come a day when we don't find it nearly so funny to have a daughter who curses at the dinner table on a Sunday afternoon, but in the meantime, it was too hilarious an incident not to share with you, Faithful Reader.

P.S. See the poll in the sidebar to the right to register your vote.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Eat Their Bubbles!

Less than two months ago, our daughters joined the swim team (remember?). Today they competed in their first-ever swim meet (for which they wrote "Eat my bubbles!" in marker on their backs--thus the title of this post): the 2009 Winter Freeze hosted by the Dickinson Dolphins. It was my first-ever swim meet, too, so it was quite a learning experience for us all--including Susan, who volunteered to serve as a timer all day long (what she learned: timers should wear shoes that they don't mind getting wet). I asked the girls to share some thoughts about the day:

mixed 200-yard freestyle relay, girls' 100-yard backstroke, girls' 50-yard freestyle, girls' 100-yard individual medley (butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle)

Suzanna: "It was fun to be there cheering on my teammates, and it was fun to hear them cheering me on when I was in the pool. I loved seeing all the different swimmers, and it was fun to see how packed with people the pool area was. It was so noisy that I thought I was going to be deaf after that experience. I liked watching my mom and dad cheering me on, and I loved hanging out with the friends whom I'm made through swim team. Even though I didn't qualify for state yet with any of my times, I know now what times I'm trying to beat for the next meet. Before I went into the pool, my coaches wished me luck, and Mommy said that she loved me no matter what happened."

mixed 200-yard freestyle relay, girls' 100-yard backstroke, girls' 50-yard freestyle, girls' 100-yard individual medley (butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle)

Abigail: "After I did the first relay, I got out of the pool, and I could barely walk! I had a swim buddy named Justine who sat with me, talked with me, ushered me to the right lanes at the right times, and cheered me on as I swam. It was so hard and nerve-racking, but at the same time it was fun and so amazingly awesome. I wanted to stay under the water the whole time and breathe there and stay there and live there because everybody on the deck was shouting, and it seemed as though I would go deaf! Swimming is a lifelong sport, and even parents and grownups and grandparents can swim!"

mixed 100-yard freestyle relay, girls' 25-yard backstroke, girls' 50-yard freestyle, girls' 25-yard breaststroke

Hillary: "It was really exciting for me because I came in first in two heats and got a coupon each time to go get a free Powerade. It was surprising for me to see a lot of people all around the whole lap pool. I had four events: four heats, four lanes, and four swims. My swim buddy was Madison, and she had her friend Rachael with her. My swim buddy showed me where to go at the correct times and when I should do the thing. When I wasn't swimming, I was hanging around with my swim buddy and her friend. I can't wait until our next meet!"

It may have been a cold winter morning outside, but it was hot as Hades in the pool area--and that place truly was packed! The competing teams were from Center, Bismarck, Mandan, Minot, and Williston, and we all filled the bleachers that lined three sides of the pool. The far end of the pool in the photo above is where Susan and the other timers stood and where the blocks are from which swimmers leap into the pool when starting an event. I took lots of photos of each girl in action in the pool, but "in action" equals "photos of splashes of water," so I won't bother sharing those.

We were so proud of our little dolphins and delighted to take them out for a late dinner afterward over which to hear all about the swim meet from their perspectives. Having been on the swim team only a few weeks, the girls had realistic expectations for today and were glad to have completed each event without cramping up in fatigue and sinking to the bottom! But who knows? Faithful reader, perhaps soon you'll check out Pensive? No, Just Thinking and read about their qualifying for the state meet! Stay tuned!

P.S. See the poll in the sidebar to the right to register your vote.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

And the Winner Is . . .

Before we get too far into a new year, let us look back fondly upon last year and assess: just what was the most entertaining post on Pensive? No, Just Thinking in 2008? Please note the poll available to the right and register your vote. Don't remember a particular post? I've included the date of each post so that you can use the blog archive (look to the right and scroll down a bit to find it) to locate and reread it.

You have until February 1 to vote. It's your civic duty as an American citizen. Or, if you're not an American citizen, it's your privilege in the spirit of international harmony. Just vote.

Friday, January 02, 2009

DVR Check

What is on the Mobergs' DVR, you may be wondering? Yes, of course you are. It's not always easy to find the time to sit down together to enjoy a TV program, but that doesn't stop me from recording shows and movies that we might like, loading up the DVR's storage capacity and watching an hour's worth here and there each week. Let's ignore the movies, a hodgepodge of both child-friendly fare and PG-13- or R-rated movies that I've read about but never got the chance to see in theaters (some of which have been waiting for me on the DVR since 2007!). Instead, here's a look at the TV shows that our DVR has been set to record this season:

For the Family

Crusoe (NBC) -- I have never read the novel Robinson Crusoe, so I can't judge how accurate this short-run TV series is in terms of recreating the book's characters and plot. As a work unto itself, however, it's really entertaining. The Englishman Crusoe and his friend, the islander Friday, are stranded on an island and have created an elaborate tree house with conveniences invented by the imaginative Crusoe and cobbled together from the remains of his wrecked ship. Weekly Crusoe yearns for home, and the story of how he got to the island in the first place is slowly unfolding in flashbacks. Mariners, pirates, and cannibals keep showing up on the island, too, offering Crusoe opportunity, danger, adventure, and surprises in each episode. We're often on the edge of our seats while watching, and the show is shot beautifully on a lush island with excellent actors.

The Amazing Race (CBS) -- Entertaining and educational as the girls get weekly lessons in world geography and culture as we watch teams race in a scavenger hunt of sorts around the globe. We marvel at the challenges and root for our favorites and simultaneously curse and congratulate the editors who, each week, manage to splice together the show's ending in such a way that it seems that the final two or three teams to cross the finish line are truly neck-and-neck (when we would see, if played in real time, that they were probably actually hours apart in reaching the destination).

Dancing with the Stars (ABC) -- Again, entertaining and educational as we all learn from professional dancers about the intricacies of multiple dance styles ranging from ballroom to hip hop. We root for our favorite celebrity/professional pairing, do our own armchair judging of their dancing, boo and hiss the judges when we don't agree with their assessments, and phone in and e-mail our votes each week! As dancers themselves, the girls enjoy seeing what they could do someday with their training in dance.

Barefoot Contessa (Food Network) -- Ina Garten, the host of this cooking show, is very good at what she does and is perpetually cheerful, a combination that makes her splendidly watchable. Her crew has a knack, too, for capturing the colors of the ingredients and the vivid sounds of her every chop, slice, dice, fry, blend, etc. The show is filmed largely at her home in the Hamptons, and she's not shy about sharing glimpses into her high-end lifestyle. It's like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous meets Julia Child.

Divine Design (HGTV) -- Even more appealing a host than Ina Garten is Candice Olsen, the designer for this home makeover show. Susan and I would feel perfectly comfortable handing Candice the keys to our house and giving her carte blanche to start redesigning, remodeling, and redecorating because we have seen that everything she does she does with style and class. She's also beautiful and danged funny, making every episode a joy to watch: we're amused by her and wowed by her ability to turn any space into something incredibly beautiful and livable. (Are you reading this, Candice Olsen?! Come to our house!!) She also has several design collections available for you to put into your own home; check them out!

HGTV Design Star (HGTV) -- Because both HGTV and Food Network are pretty safe choices for family viewing (some channels that purportedly offer programing for the family run violent or sexually suggestive commercials, defeating the purpose), they are channels we turn to when sitting down as a family--which is how we started viewing this low-end version of Top Design (see below). By putting designers through weekly tests of their ability to make over rooms, the network whittles the pack down to the best candidates from which to choose one person to get his/her own design show on the network. We like critiquing the designers' work and reacting to the judges' assessments. We don't so much watch the winners' shows afterward.

Top Design (BRAVO) -- Similar to Design Star (see above) except that the designers compete for money and a spread in a design magazine rather than a chance to host a home makeover show. It has the feel of Project Runway (see below) with its eclectic collection of eccentric personalities, several with questionable style and talent. We pass judgment as the contestants face each week's challenge, feeling superior, I suppose, because we're secure in the knowledge that we'll never have to prove ourselves at such tasks in front of millions of viewers.

Project Runway (BRAVO) -- The n'est plus ultra of design contests with the perfect hosts (Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn) and judges (Michael Kors and Nina Garcia), whose mix of knowledgeable insight into the world of fashion design and unbridled bitchery make for fun viewing (because we're not on the receiving end of their critiques). The collection of kooks and actual talent amongst the contestants outdoes even that of Top Design (the names of whose contestants--including Goil and Wisit--represent merely the tip of the iceberg of oddity), although I find myself at some point or another feeling sorry for even the rudest of the wackos on Project Runway. There is some true talent on this show, and we keep watching to see if the judges will be able to see it for themselves (and not pick the ugliest garments on the runway to win a particular week's challenge).

The Next Food Network Star (Food Network) -- This is to Food Network as Design Star is to HGTV; the winning chef gets his/her own Food Network cooking show. We probably wouldn't watch it were it not for the fact that we're often checking out the network anyway for its interesting and child-safe programming (ditto HGTV and Design Star). But we do enjoy watching food shows (and then sampling the best in our own kitchen afterward), and we do enjoy judging others as they work under pressure and we watch from the low-pressure environment of our family room.

For Susan and Me

Heroes (NBC) -- What would happen if regular people suddenly discovered that they have super powers? This series started with that question, and Susan and I have been watching from the start through all the highs and lows of the plot and the casting. We're pretty good about watching this one weekly and not letting a backlog of unwatched episodes accumulate because it's the type of show that gets written about in the media each week, and we're likely to encounter a "Can you believe what happened last night on Heroes?" article on the Internet or in a magazine that would spoil our enjoyment of the show if we didn't "keep up."

The Office (NBC) -- We love not only the characters and their totally inappropriate workplace behavior but also the actors and their ridiculously appropriate acting choices, always driving home a joke with a subtle take to the camera or a lift of an eyebrow. We look forward to Thursday nights for this bit of laughter therapy.

30 Rock (NBC) -- Who knew that there could be a show to make us laugh harder than The Office? This one does. The characters say and do the most bizarre things but never seem to find any of it out of the ordinary. The jokes and pop culture jabs and allusions fly fast and furious, and we find ourselves laughing so hard at one joke that we miss the next four or five, so we have to rewind multiple times. Perfect casting, writing, acting--this plus The Office equals heaven in an hour.

Chuck (NBC) -- What would happen if a regular Joe--a geek, in fact--suddenly had an encyclopedia of spy information uploaded into his brain? That's this show's premise, and it's fun to watch each week as Chuck, the unassuming geek, finds himself the target of international criminals out to destroy incriminating information and national intelligence agents out to prevent the data in Chuck's head from falling into the wrong hands. Chuck's two secret agent "handlers" try to keep him safe while working under cover, insinuating themselves into his work and personal life and generally guaranteeing that each episode will be full of confusion and danger for everybody involved.

Eli Stone (ABC) -- Eli is a lawyer with a brain tumor that may or may not be responsible for his frequent visions of the future, which nobody but the audience is able to recognize as portents (because they always come true, for Pete's sake). He's trying to maintain his career as a lawyer, which is in jeopardy because his clients, his coworkers, and his boss all think he's losing his mind (and so does he, frankly). His visions frequently feature singing and dancing by the people around him, so it's good that they cast good singers (who are also appealing actors) in so many roles. And George Michael keeps popping up in his visions, too. Because Eli's gotta have faith.

Pushing Daisies (ABC) -- "Quirky" is an apt description but has a negative connotation that is not at all appropriate for this show. The main character discovers that, with one touch, he can bring dead things back to life--but that, with a second touch, those things are sent back to death, never to be reanimated with subsequent touches. When the woman of his dreams dies, he touches her once to bring her back to life but is doomed never to be able to make physical contact again. That premise is quirky enough, but the wacky assortment of characters, the unusual plots, and the unique look of the production style are a good match in terms of quirkiness.

24 (FOX) -- In one 24-hour period, special agent Jack Bauer must save the world from terrorists, traitors, international criminals, natural disasters, and other dangers. Each episode represents one hour in one terribly stressful day in Jack's life. Nobody faces so many perils, defeats so many baddies, or saves the world so many times as Jack. The incredible situations that he faces and the ends to which he'll go in order to overcome them keep us tuning in season after season.

Lost (ABC) -- In the pilot episode, a passenger airplane crashed on an island, and it seemed as though it would be a show about surviving until rescuers could arrive. Except that the passengers all have their own secrets, the island is a hotbed of odd phenomena and mysterious inhabitants, the laws of time and physics don't apply on this island, and all the people and all the events are interconnected. Unraveling these interconnections in order to solve some mysteries and reveal others is the mission of each episode, which might flash backward to reveal tidbits about a character's past before boarding that fateful plane or flash forward to show tantalizing details about what will happen once that character makes it off the island. We're always kept off-balance and tune in to see if we can ever figure out just where this show is heading.

For Me

The Shield (FX) -- My friend Darin first got me hooked on this show about a police precinct in a high-crime district in Los Angeles. It's very realistic in its portrayal of criminals and cops and their daily lives and lifestyles with gritty language and plots and violence and a filming style to match. What makes this cop show stand out is the choice by some of its cops to fight crime with crime, using blatantly illegal means to apprehend some baddies and to steal from the criminals to pad their own coffers. Of course, one illegal deed brings the risk of discovery and must be followed by another and another until everything is about to come crashing down around them. This was its final season, and I was mesmerized by the terrific writing and acting. Although we viewers were never asked to like the criminal cops or approve of their choices, we were enabled to see things from their perspective and experience the unraveling of their lives and the tragic consequences of their choices . . . from the safety of our own homes. This show deserved every Emmy nomination and win that it got.

Christmas Cacti

Susan's Christmas cacti (once her mother's) are in bloom! Aren't they pretty?

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy New Year!

We rang in the new year by inviting three couples and their kids over to our house for a family-friendly night of games and food last night. One couple had to decline when the husband's out-of-state parent was hospitalized, so it was Leslie (one of Susan's colleagues), her husband Dave, and their two boys, and our neighbors Chuck and Reba and their two kids. Dave is a police officer who was on duty last night, so actually he stopped by for only a few minutes between calls. When he arrived at our front door in full uniform, Chuck and Reba's little four-year-old boy stood with wide eyes and dropped mouth, wondering who knows what! All he said to Dave was, "Those handcuffs are real!" I wonder what our neighbors thought when they saw the police car on the street and a cop entering our home!

Susan made gallons and gallons of homemade soup: one cheesy potato and bacon soup and one Southwestern chicken soup (both inspired by our recent trip to Harwood--thank you, Janelle!). Leslie made sub sandwiches to slice and share: one roast beef and horseradish and one turkey and bacon, both on loaves of delicious bread. Reba made a fantastic spinach dip that we gobbled up on wheat crackers. The rest of the spread, courtesy of Susan, included chips, veggies and dip, Christmas baking and candy, and a variety of adult beverages and bottles of soda for the kids.

While the kids played downstairs (hide and seek, board games, little-boy-friendly toys from my own childhood collection, and karaoke on the machine that the girls got from Uncle Jerrett for Christmas--a hu-u-u-uge hit in our household!), the adults visited and ate. Leslie and her boys had to make an earlyish exit to get her littlun into bed, but Chuck and Reba stayed until about 2:00 A.M.! We hustled the kids upstairs just before midnight to join us in a toast (champagne for the adults, sparkling cider for the kids) after a countdown to the new year. Everybody got a New Year's kiss, too, although all kissing was contained to one's own family members. We adults played many rounds of Catch Phrase, the electronic music edition, and laughed ourselves silly. It was a terrific time.

The girls and I reheated soup for breakfast this morning! It was a leisurely day. Jordanne, the little girl who lives next door, spent most of today at our house, and she and our daughters made several craft projects that the girls had gotten for Christmas (thank you, Dennis and Julie!) while Susan worked at scrapbooking and sorted through photographs. She made us a special New Year's supper: broiled filet mignon, twice-baked potatoes, steamed asparagus with hollandaise sauce, crab chunks with melted butter, shrimp cocktail, and Suzanna's birthday cake for dessert. We finished watching A Christmas Story (started the night of Suzanna's birthday) and started watching A Christmas Memory. A very relaxing start to the new year. Here's hoping for another terrific year . . . which will be documented, no doubt, for your edification on this very blog!